Athboy Times Past – Vol. 2

Bernard Walsh brings us the second installment of Athboy Times Past featuring short snippets of stories and reports from bygone days.

Before the 111

An early form of public transport was Geherty’s Coach which plied the route from Athboy to North King’s Street, Dublin, daily in 1847. In October of that year it was reported that this coach met with a serious accident, three miles from Trim, and one woman, who was on her way to America, was dangerously hurt, another seriously, and several others more or less injured.

Blame was attached to the Board of Works as it was into a roadside cutting that the coach overturned. It also appeared that the coach driver was a young man of little experience and did not exercise sufficient caution. Unfortunately no names are recorded.

Pat And The Farmer’s Niece – The Old Story

Belfast News – 20th February 1864

“Immediately after Shrove-tide a boy of the Fitzsimonses, named Pat, a servant in the employ of Mr. Regan, of Tullaghanogue, in the neighbourhood of Athboy in the County of Meath, became anxious to conclude a little matrimonial speculation which he had on hands; his addresses to his masters blooming niece, a girl named Mary Brady, having been of late well received. While the old fellow, who was perfectly unconscious of the secret attachment, slept, Pat and Mary decamped, and set off for Dublin by train, and from thence to Queenstown – the young woman having first supplied herself freely, so the story goes, of her uncle’s exchequer. Love that laughs at locksmiths, must yield to that hideous tell-tale, the telegraph, and, though rapid the journey to the sunny south, when the pair reached Queenstown, where the emigrant ship which was to convey them far away had already her sails set – a very bland and insinuating gentleman, quite a stranger, met them on the quay, and much to their surprise, welcomed them by name, and showed himself mysteriously conversant with their little secret. Poor Pat was thrown off his guard, and took the stranger into his confidence – and Mary expressed her thanks again and again to the gentleman who was so very kind to them, and so very polite!  When the Constable in disguise (for such their friend was) had his train properly laid, he sprung the mine! In one overwhelming blast all their hope, their plans and their joys were blown to the winds. Pat and his bride were placed under arrest, and a message was dispatched to the County Meath that the fugitives, as supposed, were safe. An information was sworn before Mr. Atkinson J.P. of Athboy, and a charge preferred, that a sum of £26 was taken from Regan, by someone thought to be his niece. Armed with a warrant, Constable Connell and Sub-Constable Egan proceeded to Queenstown and identified the prisoners, who were given over to their charge. Early on Monday morning they left Cork by train, and, at Limerick Junction, same day, we observed them looking as comfortable and happy as their peculiar circumstances would admit of.”

As an addendum to the above story, Pat and Mary were indeed returned to Athboy. At the next Petty Sessions Court on March 1st they both appeared and were charged with stealing £26 from John Regan. The case was sent forward to the next Trim Assizes. The final outcome is not known.

The Grennanstown Memorial

Grennanstown MemorialIn the townland of Grennanstown, about 2km from Athboy, is a stone wall erected as a roadside memorial to 2 men who were killed at that spot on 17th October 1892. Inset into the wall are the names of the two men, Peter Rochford and Patrick Connell.

It appears that the two men were hauling a cart load of timber for their employer, Mr. Studdert of Grennanstown, to Athboy when the accident happened. Investigations afterwards concluded that the wheel of the cart likely got into a rut at the bend of the road, probably aided by the darkness of the night, thus precipitating the cart, timber and unfortunate men into the ditch. So severe were their injuries that it was concluded that both men died immediately.

The bodies were conveyed to the Market House, Athboy, where an inquest was held the following day. Patrick Connell, who was aged 45 and was a carpenter, died from a fracture of the base of the skull while Peter Rochford, a labourer and aged just 19, died from a broken neck.

It is unsure just when the memorial wall was erected and by whom.

Assaulted With A Dead Hen!

A roadside scene between a motorist and a labourer in which the labourer struck the motorist with a dead hen, was described at Athboy Court in July 1930. Robert Ronaldson, Woodtown, Athboy, a motorist, summoned James Clarke of Ballyboy, Athboy for assault. Ronaldson giving evidence said he killed the hen when passing the defendant’s house because the hen started to cross the road too late. District Justice Beatty said that the defendant should not have raised a hand to Ronaldson; but if he saw Ronaldson driving recklessly he should tell the Guards. He imposed a fine of 5s with costs.

Train Crash At Athboy

In the foreground is the "turntable" which was used to reverse the direction of travel of the steam engine at this , a terminus station. Credit: Phyllis O'Connor

The following account of a train crash at Athboy railway station appeared in The Freeman’s Journal on 29th December 1877:

“An accident of a very extraordinary character occurred at the terminus of the Dublin and Meath railway at Athboy on Wednesday morning.

The 3.45 am. special train of empty wagon which comes every Wednesday morning for the conveyance of cattle to Dublin by return, rushed past the station at full speed, broke the terminal buffers on the opposite side of the turntable to pieces, dashed through a high stone wall, and crossing the road, went clean through a cottage on the opposite side, the greater part of the house and furniture being shredded to atoms.

The house was occupied by a driver of the Meath line and both he and his wife were asleep in bed. They were unhurt, having their bedroom wall thrown in a heap at their bedside, and awaking to see close by them one of the most powerful of the company’s engines. The driver of the special held to his place to the end, but the stoker and guard jumped off when at the station, the latter having his shoulder blade broken. “

An enquiry was conducted into the cause of this accident by a Col. Rich who concluded in his report that “The accident was caused by the gross neglect of the engine driver of the special train who was either asleep or occupied in talking to a friend whom he had taken on the engine contrary to the regulations of the company, instead of minding his business while he was approaching Athboy Station.  This man has been dismissed from the company service.”


Athboy Railway on OS Map
Map showing the layout of Athboy Railway Station with the scene of the train crash circled in red. © Ordnance Survey Ireland/Government of Ireland. Copyright Permit No. MP 002016

However, this was not the only serious incident to have happened at Athboy railway station. Just over 1 year later, on 11th February 1879, another near accident occurred, although there are conflicting reports on the seriousness of the event. It was reported that the cottage opposite the turntable had a “providential escape” when the 11am train from Dublin, with passenger car attached, ran past the station and over the turntable, violently striking against a temporary barrier of old sleepers and gravel which divides it from the road and cottages. No one was injured.

Just 2 days later a letter appeared in The Irish Times from an Athboy correspondent contradicting the “exaggerated account of the near accident” at Athboy. The writer, who was a witness to the event, said that indeed the train “came to the station a little faster than usual and gently struck the stop block, by no means an uncommon occurrence at a terminus”.

Several years before the two events just mentioned, on 1st November 1869, a potentially very serious accident was averted by the vigilance of a railway milesman just outside Athboy. An attempt was made to derail a train on a gentle bend just about one mile from the town. It appears that “some evil disposed person” had raised one of the rails, the bolts and fastenings having been thrown into a nearby field. Fortunately the approaching train was stopped “or the consequence might have been very disastrous.” The culprits were never found.

Temperance In Athboy

Fr. Theobald Mathew
Fr. Theobald Mathew (1790-1856)

Father Theobald Mathew (1790–1856) was a Capuchin Priest who, in 1838, founded The Total Abstinence Society. His temperance movement met with enormous success with 150,000 people all over Ireland signing up to take The Pledge in the first nine months. By the Famine years over three million people had taken The Pledge.

Father Mathew travelled all over Ireland, giving talks and administering The Pledge to large crowds. When it became known that he was to pass through Athboy on 9th July 1840, a huge crowd from the town and surrounding districts gathered to see him. “The Apostle of Temperance” as he became known was on his way to a planned visit in Navan, and a stop in Athboy was not on his itinerary. However, the good people of Athboy had a different idea.

During his brief stop-over “while the horses were being changed” it is recorded that about two thousand people signed up to The Pledge.

Following the brief visit of Father Mathew, a branch of the Total Abstinance Society was formed in Athboy. Then on 31st October 1840 a letter appeared in the Drogheda Argus Newspaper from an Athboy resident, detailing his observations in Athboy:

Sir,                                                                                                                                                    21st October 1840

As your liberal and enlightened journal is the able advocate, and uncompromising supporter, of the cause of Temperance, I beg leave to make known to your numerous readers the following facts, which speak trumpet-tongued for the glorious institution of the pledge. This town which was hitherto remarkable for drunkedness and rioting, is now one of the most peaceable and orderly in Ireland. It was not at all unusual to see twenty or thirty of the votaries of bacchus fined at the Petty Sessions Court (which is held here once a fortnight), for their devotion to The Jolly God. Neither was it a rare occurrence to see half a dozen of foolish, unthinking, young men, handcuffed and guarded by the Police, going to Trim gaol, for some drunken row, which generally originated in the public house. But now, how wisely different is the case since that memorable period, the 9th of July last, when The Great Apostle of Temperance honored this town with a passing visit. There has not been a single instance of any person belonging to this town or parish being committed to gaol for any crime whatever, or any fines for drunkenness, except one or two. The whiskey shops here are lonely and silent, both day and night, as if they were never inhabited by one precious drop of Woolsey’s Best or Guinness XX. The police, poor fellows, have little or nothing to do, and the magistrates (for which they acknowledge themselves grateful to Father Mathew) are relieved of a vast deal of trouble.

Signed : A Teetotaller

On 5th April 1841, the Freeman’s Journal reported that Father Mathew, The Apostle of Temperance, had donated the very large sum of £31 to Father Masterson, Curate of Athboy, for the relief of the poor and destitute of the town.

Church Donation

Cork Examiner – 15th June 1842

Mrs Delaney, of Athboy Lodge, has given the handsome donation of £20 towards the finishing of the Roman Catholic Chapel of Athboy. This exemplary and Christian lady, although but a short time residing in the parish, has not only testified her zeal for the promotion of religion, but also that of education, through her patronage of the Athboy School.

Athboy Brewery

Advertisements appeared in the press in November 1811 offering “For Sale or To Let” the Flour Mills and Brewery at Athboy, Co Meath. The business had lately been in the possession of Mr. James Gaughran. The machinery of the mill and a number of the vessels of the brewery were described as being in perfect order and fit for present use. The tenant could be provided with a good house, offices and garden, immediately near the brewery, and also any such quantity of land as may be required. Applications were to be made in writing to Sir Francis Hopkins of Athboy Lodge.

It appears though that the flour mill may have been taken on as a going concern at this time because the brewery was still being advertised in December 1812: “To be Let for such term as may be agreed upon.” The brewery was said to be “nearly in complete order, with or without an extensive malt house, and situate in a genteel and thickly inhabited neighbourhood and several miles from any other brewery.” Again the tenant could be accommodated with a few acres of land near the brewery if required.

Athboy Mills Burned

As a follow on from the previous story, it was reported in 1839 that the Athboy Flour Mills were completely destroyed by fire on 16th March . The extensive mills, which were run by Messrs W. and J. Webb, were found to be ablaze in the early hours of the morning, and, withstanding every effort, were completely destroyed. They were rented from Sir Francis Hopkins, Bart., but luckily were insured with the Caledonian Fire-Office, the manager of which was dispatched to Athboy to investigate the cause of the fire.

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